Monthly Archives: December 2003

sugar lake

12/19/03

I’ve been considering not writing in here for Saturdays, as long as that doesn’t make anyone too terribly unhappy. While I appreciate (and am flummoxed by) the great hits I get during the week, it seems as though weekends are a time when everyone takes a break from the internet.

The “weekend mentality” is about as pervasive as the “semester mentality,” meaning that you tend to live your life around those arbitrary constructs long after they have any relevance. As a freelancer, Sunday at 11:45pm is just as good time for work as any other. And I confess that I still see my life based on spring semesters, fall semesters and summer, even though I haven’t attended class in 13 years.

Speaking of which, my first real girlfriend Tracy celebrated her birthday today. And my oldest Carolina confidante Kendall is reading this and she always wanted me to post a picture of she and Tracy together. So here you go, m’dear!

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Kendall is yelling at me, as usual, in 1989

the flux capacitor!

12/18/03

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I wanted to make this my 1993 Christmas card, but my erstwhile girlfriend wouldn’t let me

I have had nothing but shitty, shitty, shitty cars. Besides a 1971 white Karmann Ghia that I bought with summer job money, I have been on the receiving end of some of the worst vehicles ever created. The best that could said for them is they moved forward when you stepped on the gas pedal, but many of them, alas, didn’t even do that.

The Volvo pictured above was given to me for $100 by my brother Kent, and while it surely had its heyday in 1968, by the time I got it, you had to shove screwdrivers into the upholstery to keep the windows from falling inside the doors. The ignition started with a locker key, and occasionally the accelerator pedal would break, and I had to accelerate by pulling speaker wire attached to the idler.

My next car, a white diesel Rabbit, lost both first and second gear, meaning I had to start it by pushing it down a hill. My VW Fox had no door handles and seized on a LA freeway going 75mph. And my last car, a white Mustang convertible, still had vials of spent cocaine burned into the carpet, the top was patched with packing tape, and it gave off the smell of burning hair when it went more than 50 miles per hour.

I mention this because we bought a car yesterday. It is the first new car I have ever had. It is a Toyota Prius, and it fucking ROCKS THE FREE WORLD!!!

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We’ve been obsessing over the Prius since last year’s model, so when we read the specs of the 2004 version, we went ahead and put our deposit down and hoped for the best. In the meantime, it became Motor Trends’ Car of the Year, which opened a floodgate of interest, and now we’re told ours is one of the first in NYC, and there is a 9 to 11-month waiting list. In California, the wait is a year and a half. Needless to say, we feel utterly blessed.

You don’t use your car keys like normal; you just need them in your pocket. They wirelessly open the doors and start the engine with the push of a button. The car is so quiet that Tessa accidentally left it running during the entirety of “Return of the King,” meaning that any Tolkein fan could have forgone Middle Earth and driven off with the Future. The base price is $19K, and ours came with a wicked video navigation system, a 9-speaker stereo, and an impenetrable anti-theft mechanism (my beloved wife notwithstanding). No, there is no “plugging it in,” and it goes as fast as you want.

Anyone with serious cock issues shouldn’t buy the Prius; it doesn’t rev and jolt out of intersections like most assholes in their Yukons. In fact, the physical feel of driving is so different that it takes some getting used to. At a full stop, the engine shuts off and you can hear whispers. On the highway, you can hear the bass of your favorite songs again. The transmission is so seamless that it almost feels like you’re on a mag-lev train, floating above the sand like the car Luke had in “Star Wars.”

We were willing to put up with a tiny car, but, like an Escher painting or the plot of House of Leaves, the interior seems to measure bigger than the car’s exterior. It’s called a “compact,” but the room inside – because of the smaller engine and battery – gives you the legroom and storage of a midsize. There’s more room in the back seat than the Land Rover, swear to god.

And it gets 60 miles a gallon in the city. In other words, you can drive 720 miles through Manhattan before you need to get more gas. This was why we’re doing this: we wanted to Stick It To The Man as hard as we possibly could. Dick Cheney and the Bush family is not getting one more fucking red cent from our oil purchases than we can bear. And since the car is almost zero-emissions, we are ensuring that our grandkids won’t have to wear SPF 400 sunscreen when it’s cloudy.

Hopefully, we can act as emissaries for this little baby, showing people that you don’t have to drive a cramped, slow car shaped like a Advil gelcap in order to get insane mileage. Put your name on the list and help us Kick the Man in the Nuts!

beaten

12/17/03

During the trailer for “Return of the King” tonight, I was overcome with horror – not for the usual reason (trailers suck and give away the ending), but for something much worse.

Y’see, before I wrote “The Pink House,” my second screenplay was called “Try to Remember,” and was the story of a woman returning to her home in New Orleans, falling in love with a ghost that may – or may not – be haunting her room, discovering a mode of time travel based in something really cool, then setting off on several time trips to save him and their family. She is able to assume her own body in her past ages, and is struggling with a dark secret from childhood. And it’s also sort of a comedy. ” Something like “Donnie Darko” combined with “Somewhere in Time.”

I have been working on this script for about five years, and I was planning on making it a priority assuming all goes well with “The Pink House.”

Sounds cool, right? Well, you’ll never see it. The trailer I saw tonight was for a movie called “The Butterfly Effect” starring Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart, and the plot is exactly the same, just the gender roles are reversed. It’s so close that if I were an absolute paranoid fuck, I’d think someone had cribbed a copy of my 1998 screenplay. Of course, that’s not the way these things work.

I’ve harped on and on about cognitive resonance in here before, but put in perspective of the movie business it works like this: the second you have a great script idea, another person, unrelated to you in every way, will also have the exact same idea. From that moment, it’s a race.

This has happened before, most devastatingly with the movie “Sliding Doors.” I had already outlined and pitched a romantic comedy that follows a woman through two alternate paths of reality (even distinguishing the two by haircuts), and then I paused for a couple of years to write a novel about something else. The second I finished my book, I saw the ad for the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, and knew I had fucked myself into a cocked hat.

Tonight was especially hard, since I had poured so much of my heart and random thought processes into the New Orleans script. Five years. I even brought it up to the farm to finish over Christmas. But “The Pink House” has taken so long, and the mountains have been so steep, that some other guy has gone ahead and made the other movie. I don’t think it’s possible to express what a body blow to the gut this is, I suppose you’ll just have to trust me.

I have been beaten twice, badly, by cognitive resonance. I can fucking promise you there will not be a third.

rouge et blue et jaune

12/16/03

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This is what I looked like today. I think it’s important, if you’re keeping a diary, to make sure you note how young you are, how old you’ve become, how you’ve changed in a few years, all the minutiae that gets lost when you’re up on the balcony shouting at the world all your most precious theories.

When I see old pictures of myself, I never think about what I look like, or where the picture was taken

free free, set them free

12/15/03

Great conversation going on in the “comments” section of yesterday’s blog, but my friend Steph reminds me of a larger point, namely, did the eradication of Saddam Hussein actually save hundreds of thousands of lives down the road, and if we don’t really know, wasn’t it worth it, just in case?

The specific case of Saddam is interesting, since one thing cooler heads said before the war was this: he may be a paranoid, psychotic murderer, but he isn’t crazy. Namely, he’ll try to get away with a few things (gassing Kurds, invading Kuwait), but he wouldn’t actually use nuclear weapons on anybody, fearing his own Mutually-Assured Destruction.

I think his capture has borne this out; there he was, lying in a hole, trying to scratch out an existence. This is one man with a Life Wish. He could have launched missiles at Israel and gone out it a Islamist blaze of martyric glory, he could have sought help with an Al Qaeda or two, he could have even pulled a Hitler and shot himself before the infidels found his bunker. Instead, he sighed, gave up, and promptly submitted himself to a dental exam. There’s something very human about his capture, don’t you think?

So, to answer the specific question, no, I don’t think we saved millions of lives by nabbing this guy. But the question is much more interesting when thrown into the macrocosm

hairy and smelly

12/14/03

So the American forces “caught” Saddam Hussein today. Would it be too rude to say “big fucking deal”? The only people I’m happy for are the families stationed in Fort Bragg, or some other small military town in down-east North Carolina, a wife or a son who might be able to breathe 1/9th easier on the off-chance that this event may un-inspire a terrorist or two from taking out one of their husbands or fathers. As for the rest of this sorry spectacle, it’s just embarrassing all around.

The worst thing, of course, is that Americans are so stupid that this capture may make them more likely to vote for George W. Bush again. There he was on television, his monkey smiley-face, talking about how the world can finally relax ‘cuz “we got ‘im.” His glee was barely contained. But really, it was Bush and his neo-con cronies that got us into this goddamn war, and now we’re supposed to feel all jubilant because he finally found the leader of Iraq after killing 8,850 civilians? He looked like a little kid that wanted credit for cleaning up his own pee.

While we’re lost in this momentary haze of drunken giddiness, let’s not forget that nabbing this tyrant has not altered why so many of us were against this war. Saddam Hussein not only has no weapons of mass destruction, he not only has no ties to Al Qaeda, he doesn’t even have a goddamn lice comb. And don’t get started about how he gassed his own people, because we all know there is only one country who has used the most horrific weapon of mass destruction on another, and it ain’t Iraq. And if we’re all supposed to be glad that this murderous dictator is no longer running a country, then we should get going on the other ones

our fave sagittarius

12/12/03

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my mom circa 1950

This entry is a hearty shout-out to my Mom, who turned 72 today, and doesn’t look a day older than, say, 60. If she ever went to the gym like I tell her to, she wouldn’t look a day over 56.

There are two stories about my mom that she is sick of, but they totally encapsulate what she is all about. The first one takes place in a “Model A” Ford driving from Utah to California in about 1949. On the long slope down a mountain, the gear stick shift came loose, stranding my mom and her two sisters in the middle of god-knows-where Utah desert. After my aunts screamed that they were all going to be eaten alive, my mom took a bobby pin out of her hair, stuck in the gearbox, shoved the stick shift back in, and spit sand revving the hell out of there. When I was young, driving I-15 through Cedar City, she used to point out the hill where this happened. “We sold the car with the bobby pin still in it,” was always the capper.

The other is shorter: while we were living in Iowa, she lost her keys. After three hours of the entire family scouring every part of the house, she found them in the freezer.

I use these two stories, out of the hundreds we know about my mom, because they perfectly illustrate her: inventive, practical, effusive, and charming

insist on knowing my bliss

12/11/03

In a headline skewed for maximize snarkiness, Salon.com ran the AP story that Hall and Oates have been deemed “Heroes of Music.” Yes, cue groans and guffaws, but I think many of you have forgotten just how awesome Hall & Oates were back in their creative heyday of the early 80s. Forget about “Method of Modern Love” and the other songs from the mid-80s, when Darryl Hall’s ego and mullet threatened to destroy American culture. Forget also the comparisons between John Oates and Andrew Ridgeley, the “other half of Wham!” – Oates was a great singer, had amazing backup vocal ideas, and played guitar, whereas Ridgeley just raced cars.

“Private Eyes” had some of the best vocal work on Top 40 radio; “Kiss on My List” had chords that my mom once called “fascinating” while we were driving to the store; “I Can’t Go For That” is about the best groove since Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl”

pathos and pathology

12/9/03

Those of you who have been reading this blog know I can go on for hours about how excruciating the making of The Pink House really was. I spent a year re-writing it, lugging scripts around in horizontal rain, and had probably the worst dry-reading of a screenplay since Elizabethan times. Still, I soldiered on, undeterred, powered by ego and buttressed by friendship.

We managed to raise just enough money to shoot the film, hire a couple of great indie stars, and brought hundreds of people together in North Carolina during one of the hottest weeks in history, to spend three weeks torturing ourselves. It was more harrowing than anything in “Project Greenlight,” worse by far than “Living in Oblivion.” We had a key member of the crew go off his rage medication and nearly killed two extras. Two different thunderstorms washed away the set, and a lightning bolt nearly killed the art department. Our lead actor broke his hand halfway through filming. It was called “The Pink House” and the actual Pink House wouldn’t let us inside to shoot. Slowly, one by one, we went crazy.

I know I’m repeating myself. Bear with me.

On the last day of shooting, the typhoon had shut down any outside filming, leaving us with five scenes unfilmed. Soaking wet, with hundreds of crew sheltering themselves under trees and inside cars, Tessa and I rewrote the scenes and shot them that evening. We had to suck it up and keep moving, even though it meant changing the ending of our film.

We finished principal photography at the end of August 2001. On the afternoon of September 10, 2001, we got our film and tapes back, and began to edit in Manhattan. A few hours later, well, whatever. You know what happened. Less people know that Tessa’s dad died a week later. In the ensuing chaos, and a hurried Christmas, we couldn’t start editing until February of 2002.

Every thing that could have gone wrong with our computers, did. We had to update Final Cut Pro three times. We discovered an entire reel of film had disappeared. We missed the deadlines for Toronto and Sundance. But still, the long (3-hour) edit of the movie was beginning to make us laugh. Somewhere, buried in stone like one of Michelangelo’s slaves, there was a pretty great movie hidden.

We ran out of money again, and took to the road to raise more. We had meeting after meeting with millionaires, and even a billionaire, but the world was reeling from the post-Sept. 11 aftermath, and investing in anything artistic, with even the faintest whiff of high risk, was almost non-existent. Again, we came back to New York thanks to benificence of one inspired investor, and carved out a fantastic edit of the movie. We showed it to an anonymous audience, who gave us a positive rating of 90%, almost unheard-of for a rough cut.

Emboldened, we bit the bullet and had a sneak screening of the rough cut to friends and family. Even though I knew there was one big flaw with the movie that needed fixing (more on that some other time), the reception we got was fantastic. I worked a couple of leads for investments afterwards, but then we got the greatest news of all: an angel had been at the screening, and they had come to rescue us. Our financial problems were over. The entire rest of the movie, everything, was now paid for.

In jubilation, we made plans. We set forth to fix a nagging problem with the film, dropped all our leads, and spent the last two months chomping at the bit. We could finish in time for another major festival, get the soundtrack settled, start a marketing campaign, gear up to sell this baby, start our careers as filmmakers in earnest.

We even made friends with our salvation, sharing our lives, sharing our friends. Two months of this pure bliss.

And it was a lie. A cruel, unbelievable, pathological lie. It was a fantasy from the get-go.

Tessa went into mourning, and I retreated into cold-weather hibernation. If it weren’t for Celexa and shots of espresso, I would have a foot-long beard and be living in a hole in the ground. It is one thing to do this to a company, or a faceless organization with millions of dollars, but to do this to us, an independent comedy production that already has EVERYTHING against us, was beyond the scope of heartlessness.

We will pick ourselves off the floor again, and start over. Any leads are appreciated, my beloved readers.

As for our betrayal, my lawyer says I can’t name names, and I will not divulge the particulars of what happened. But I believe some public accountability must be had. All I want is to put a few pictures on the blog, the faces of those who have worked so hard.